By: Joe Jodoin
Earlier last week, Napster-founder Sean Parker announced his plans to release a video streaming device that will allow people to watch newly released movies at home the same day that they are released in theatres.
The box itself would cost $150 to purchase and install, while each viewing of a movie would cost $50. This may seem expensive at first, but there are many scenarios where such an option would be significantly cheaper than a trip to the movies.
Famous and influential directors such as Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Peter Jackson and Martin Scorsese have come out in favor of the device, and actually serve as shareholders in the company. However, directors such as Christopher Nolan and James Cameron are very much against it, since it would negatively impact the ways movies are made and experienced.
Screening Room is so controversial amongst the industry because the pros and cons are pretty much equally balanced. One of the main benefits would be that it aims to capture an audience that doesn’t already go to the theatre, such as families. A family of four would usually need to spend more than $50 on tickets alone, while also needing to spend money on fuel and concessions. If my five roommates and I all split the money to watch a new movie together on a Friday night, it would turn out to be relatively cheap and easy compared to a trip to the theatre.
It would also serve to eliminate all the problems with going to the movies. You wouldn’t have to worry about waiting in lines, trying to find good seats, or even running late and missing part of the movie. You also wouldn’t have to deal with other audience members, who may be talking or texting on their phones. Bathroom breaks would also be possible, due to the ability to pause the movie, and you would have a 48-hour window to finish the movie in case there is an emergency (although you are only able to watch the movie once within this time period).
There are also reasons why Screening Room is feasible for theatre owners and the studios. Twenty of the $50 would go to the studio that made the movie, and when you rent a movie, you will receive two free tickets to a movie theatre. Since theatres make their money off concessions (and not the tickets), this provides encouragement for people who don’t normally go to the theatre. People should then feel more comfortable about buying snacks, since they got their tickets for free. It also provides people with a chance to see movies that aren’t playing in a theatre near them. I recently had to go to Mississauga to watch three movies, which I would have rather watched at home.
Let’s break it down. If I wanted to see a movie with my mom, we would spend $50 on a movie and get two free theater tickets. The two tickets would be worth $24 each, so we would really be spending only $26, which adds up to only $13 a person. This is only slightly more expensive than going to a theatre, yet I would have the comfort of watching the movie in my own home.
A lot of people hear the $50 price tag and immediately dismiss the service as too expensive, and the $150 cost for the box itself doesn’t help, but in the long run it could be worth it.
This device would also not be useful for people who are happy to wait for a much cheaper option to watch their movies, such as a digital download or on DVD. I’m someone who always needs to see movies as soon as possible in good quality, but people like me are a rare breed. Screening Room also plans on being the one and only video-on-demand box on the market, which will encounter problems since other companies offering VOD services have contracts with major studios. This issue would need to be resolved before the product hits the market.
Finally, Screening Room would not only change the way movies are seen, but the way they are made too. Filmmakers such as Cameron and Nolan are against this device, because they specifically design their works as movies that need to be experienced in the cinema. Whether this is because the movie is shot on film, or because of surround sound, or 3D, an artist should have the right to have people see their movies in the way they intend them to be seen. Studios also specifically make movies that people will want to see in theatres, because that’s how they make most of their profit. If audiences transition to mostly watching movies at home, things like bombastic action, special effects and sound won’t matter as much.
In an age where more and more people are investing their money into home theatre systems, Screening Room may seem like a path to the future. However, this is also an age of piracy, Netflix and Blu-ray, where people have many cheaper alternatives to accessing infinite amounts of media and entertainment. While Screening Room is attracting a lot of attention and controversy right now, if it ever does hit the market, I doubt it will be anything more than a niche product, aimed to attract families and movie obsessives. Don’t expect to see all the movie theatres getting torn down anytime soon.